18 January 2009

The five love languages

Here is a story demonstrating the importance of clear communication:

On the first day of third grade, my partner's teacher told everyone in the class to make a name sign. "Like this," he said. He held up a piece of construction paper and wrote his name on it in clear, big letters: LETON. He told the class to come in the next day with colgaropas (this was in Bolivia) and their name signs. Apparently, colgaropa could mean either clothes pin or hanger, though, so the next morning, when the teacher instructed the students to attach their name signs to their shirts, everyone was confused.

It turns out half of the kids showed up with hangers, and half the kids showed up with clothes pins. Frustrated, the teacher changed the subject. "All right, let's see everyone's name signs." The little hands held up their name signs, and half of them had written LETON on their signs instead of their own names. Poor Leton. I guess he needed to be a little more specific.

So, to make sure my partner and I didn't turn into unintentional Letons, one of my closest friends got this book for us as one of our many wedding gifts (thank you), and it took about five months, but we have finally both finished reading it now (sorry we're such slackers).

Now, I know purple was the 'it' color this past fall and all that nonsense, but I have to admit: if I saw this book in a bookstore, I would very likely have run away from it. Purple and pink -- and not just any pink, but pink in a curly font? A hokey title like Love Languages, complete with a couple walking into the sunset with a heart on the beach and the word, "Heartfelt"? HECK, no. Shoot me now.

WELL. Good thing we've learned not to judge a book by its cover. (Right?) It was actually quite a hilarious read-- and informative, too. The premise of the book was that we speak and need to hear 'love' in different ways-- that we speak different 'languages' and that if we could simply translate our intentions to please into the language that our loved ones would understand/respond to/appreciate, then we would all live happily ever after.

Dr. Chapman outlines five principal languages (each with varying 'dialects'):

- words of affirmation
- quality time
- gifts
- acts of service
- physical touch

We tend to give to our loved ones primarily in one language, which often (but not always) is the one that we prefer. (This is not necessarily conscious. Children, for example, who constantly want to hold your hand and be physically near you may simply need physical reassurance to know you care-- and a good hug will show your love to them more than a new toy will.) Chapman argues that marriages often fall apart because people are speaking different languages to each other, giving their all, but not giving what their partner needs, which = two exhausted, drained and frustrated people.

So, you work your behind off to buy your partner all the gifts that you never had when you were growing up, thinking it is the ultimate sacrifice-- and your partner complains that all she wants is to spend some time with you. Sputtering and angry, you want to yell expletives into the night air-- you give everything you possibly can! How dare she complain! According to this book, your partner simply values quality time above all else. (Now, go sit on the couch and talk with her and focus only on her for fifteen minutes while you talk about your days, dreams, etc.)

Or you've been telling your partner how wonderful and attractive he is until you're blue in the face, and your partner says you may talk a lot, but what do you ever do around the house to help out? That clues you in-- a ha! My partner values acts of service: helping with household chores, cooking a nice meal, etc.

It's like W.C. Fields said: “Reminds me of my safari in Africa. Somebody forgot the corkscrew and for several days, we had to live on nothing but food and water." One person just wants a steak, and the other just wants a beer, but as the steak lover gives the beer lover nothing but steak, and the beer lover gives the steak lover nothing but beer, both starve, yearning for what they really need. And it surely wasn't due to a lack of effort.

The heartbreaking part of the book are the endless stories of couples who waited twenty years to see this guy, who was able to turn things around within a few months. The impressive part of the book was how easy it was to understand (no fancy lingo) and how easy it was to see an easy-to-follow action plan.

The naysayers are shrugging like jaded Parisians, saying euh, yes, but that is all so obvious. Well, one might think so, but I can see how this simple philosophy could already improve several of my relationships. Take my mother, for example. She values sacrifice, so gifts = working hard to provide for your loved ones. Acts of service = doing something you don't want to do in order to please someone you care for. To her, quality time is something you also get to enjoy, so it isn't doing something for someone else. Words of affirmation are a load of junk without action to back it up. And she is a conservative Asian woman-- what is this physical touch you talk about? Uh, never mind.

So, to the know-it-alls, if you knew this and already have a perfect relationship with no communication foibles whatsoever, good on ya! (That's Australian for 'good for you,' often followed with 'mate!') For the rest of us imperfect humans, I found this to be a useful platform from which to discuss things. There is no blame, no one has failed or fallen short-- we simply have different preferences. All that is needed is to focus our efforts on where it will be most appreciated (and where it will get the most mileage). In a nutshell, instead of treating someone as we want to be treated, we treat them how they would like to be treated.

So, how would you rank the five love languages? What about your loved ones? Are you speaking the languages they need? Are you receiving the messages you need?

One could practically write a book on this. Oh, wait...

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